Ah, the mystical and manifold highlands of South and Southeast Asia. Climate-control cover from tropical and urban swelter, lush providers of comestible staples and scenic stimuli, the verdant low mountain plateaus of Burma, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka et al underwent a seismic shift in colonial Asia.
The Central Highlands of Vietnam was not immune from development. Though most justly associate hill stations with the British Raj, French Indochina was no different and sought succor in the altitudes of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Dalat, or Da Lat, is the most famous remnant of the era and, indeed, is unlike any other city in Vietnam.
More than six decades since the capital of Lam Dong province was the capital of the Federation of Indochina, Dalat still necessitates a double take from visitors fresh from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) or Nha Trang. The Gallic influence and aesthetic pervades still, from the Eiffel Tower radio mast homage to lakeside chalets, wide boulevards to the central marketplace. Despite the colonial residue, however, the “City of Eternal Spring” is distinctly Vietnamese in many ways, from the hill tribe villages that fringe the city limits to the swarms of domestic honeymooners who flock here to engage in the country’s most clichéd nuptial ritual.
Dalat's Top 10
10. Du Sinh Church is a Roman Catholic monument built in the style of a Buddhist temple.
5. Cuoan Hong Traditional Silk Centre spins a wonderful yarn and displays every facet of the production process.
9. Lam Dong Museum The provincial museum of Lam Dong hosts innumerable ancient artefacts from the region.
4. Domaine de Marie Convent was built at the start of the Second World War. The sisters still pray in French at the venerable nunnery.
8. Dalat Cathedral is one of the more prominent French-style architectural flourishes in the city.
3. Crémaillère Railway Station was the Art Deco brainchild of a French Indochina Governor General.
7. Bao Dai Summer Palace The last Emperor of Vietnam and final scion of the Nguyen Dynasty did well for himself in Dalat.
2. Hang Nga Crazy House is a cross between a termite hill and Antoni Gaudi. Weird, wild, wacky stuff.
6. Dalat Flower Gardens Perhaps the most impressive botanical landmark in all of Vietnam.
1. Dat Lat Market is a seductive hive of activity and sensory rapture.
- Dalat Railway Station – Built in 1938, this is a great spot to see old European-style trains.
- Bao Dai’s Palace – This French-style building offers a great way to see how the royalty of Dalat’s past lived.
- French Quarter – The French colonial houses are the main attraction of this area of Dalat.
- Thien Vuong Pagoda – This historic pagoda was built by Dalat locals.
- Dalat Children’s Prison – What once housed hundreds of young revolutionaries is now a historical attraction in Dalat.
Dalat Art & Culture
- Truc Lam – This working temple was finished in the mid-’90s and has a 10ft-high dragon statue.
- Linh Phuoc Pagoda – This Dalat pagoda offers wonderful views from the third floor.
- Lam Ty Ni Pagoda – The Dalat pagoda is run by poet and artist Thay Vien Thuc, who paints custom paintings.
- Valley of Love – Unique attraction is part amusement park and part zoo.
- Hang Nga Art Gallery – Unique gallery also serves as a guesthouse.
- Dalat Market – Fruit, wine and vegetables can all be found at this popular market.
- Vang Dalat Wine – The local wine of Dalat is featured in this store.
- Hoa Binh Square – This popular area features many unique shops and small boutiques.
- Dalat Night Market – The best spot in the city to find local handicrafts and delicious street food.
- Replica Rug – A great store in Dalat to buy replica jerseys.
Gay & Lesbian Dalat
- Chez Moi Disco – This gay club is popular with the young crowd, especially on weekends.
- Blue Moon Hotel and Spa – Gay-friendly hotel is known for its casual ambiance.
- Bin Yen Hotel – This small and inexpensive hotel is popular with the gay and lesbian backpacker community.
- Novotel Dalat – This cozy Dalat bar is a great place for a smart cocktail and a quiet conversation.
- Dalat Karaoke – A karaoke bar very popular with the gay male community.
- Elephant Falls – This beautiful series of waterfalls is one of the most popular places in Dalat for a day hike.
- Lang Bian – Hiking to the top of this Dalat hill will afford visitors stunning views of the surrounding area.
- Dalat Flower Park – A great way to spend a day looking at the unique plant and flower life of Dalat.
- Prenn Falls – You can take a cable car or go by foot to the top of these Dalat falls.
- Lake of Sighs – This lake is a great place to take a stroll and has an interesting myth.
- Take a hike around the trails at Xuan Huong Lake in Dalat.
- Play a round at Dalat Palace Golf Club.
- See Dalat by motorcycle with Easy Rider Day Trips.
- Kayak the rapids with Phat Tyre Ventures.
- Hike to the top of Dalat’s mountains with Highland Holiday Tours.
Dalat is a visual delight for tourists who want a change from typical Vietnamese tourist attractions, as the architecture, landscape and atmosphere of this town channel the French Alps, minus the snow and cold. Many travellers head here for its world-class golf courses, resorts and natural attractions such as the lakes, hills and mountain trails. Whether you enjoy exploring gardens and canyons or chatting about art in streetside cafés, this locale should have a star next to it on your Vietnamese travel itinerary.
- Emperor Bao Dai's Palaces
- Crazy House
- Xuan Hong Lake
- Take a guided bus tour of Dalat
- Hike at Langbiang Mountain
- Enjoy canyoning at Thung Lung Tinh Yeu
Temperatures do not change drastically throughout the year in Dalat, and 23-25°C are typical highs and 14-17°C are average lows. There are wet and dry seasons, however, with August through October being the rainiest months (24-25 cm). January through March are very dry, with only 2-4 cm of rain per month.
Getting There & Around
Many people travel to Dalat on a tour bus from Ho Chi Minh City or Nah Trang. There is an airport 30 km from the city, and many local buses offer routes to the area. Your hotel may offer free transportation to and from the airport as well.
You can get around in this destination cheaply using the local taxis and motorbike taxis called xe om.
The Dalat Cable Car is a 1.4 mi (2.3 km) adrenaline rush to Tuyen Lam Lake.
Dalat Flower Festival takes over the city in late December.
Tea Culture Festival lures thousands of tourists to Dalat in early December.
When To Go
Mild weather is at the heart of Dalat’s allure. The difference between the temperate climate of the Central Highlands and Saigon is significant, most notably in the fiery furnace of March, April and May. At minimum, Dalat is 15°F cooler than the ace metropolis of Vietnam.
Relief is on hand throughout the year, as Dalat seldom strays below or above the 55°F (13°C) to 77°F (25°C) window. The wet season wields less of a wallop as well, with 8 in (200 mm) less rain in Dalat than Saigon.
On the whole, the best months to visit the highlands city remain the dry season mainstays of December, January, February and March.
More Info On Getting Around
Dalat is 186 mi (300 km) from Saigon and 85 mi (137 km) from Nha Trang. Long distance bus is the most reliable mode of transport from both.
Dalat is a small, compact city and eminently walkable. Private cars for hire or tour bus operators ferry visitors to vital points of interest outside the core city proper.
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